‘With this advance, we have planar molecules that are going to be much easier to fashion into a very strong but extremely thin material.’
Chemical engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, have developed a material which they say is stronger than steel, as light as plastic, and can be manufactured in large quantities.
Publishing their work in the journal Nature, the researchers say that the new material is a two-dimensional polymer that self-assembles into sheets. The material could have application in areas such as durable coatings for mobile phones or car parts, or as a building material for bridges or other structures.
The researchers explain that a new polymerisation process allows them to generate a two-dimensional sheet called a polyaramide, the monomer building blocks being melamine. Under the right conditions these monomers grow in two-dimensions forming disks that stack on top on one another. Hydrogen bonds hold the layers together, making the structure stable and strong. Two patents have been filed for the process.
Professor Michael Strano, the Carbon P Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT, and senior author of the study commented; ‘With this advance, we have planar molecules that are going to be much easier to fashion into a very strong but extremely thin material.’
Because the material self assembles in solution, it can be made in large quantities by increasing the quantity of starting materials. The research team have shown that the material, which they call 2DPA-1 can be used to coat surfaces with films. The new material also has a high elastic modulus and is impermeable to gases.
Professor Strano added ‘We don’t usually think of plastics as being something that you could use to support a building…It has very unusual properties and we’re excited about that.’